Cassini Mission Status Report
The Cassini spacecraft completed a successful rendezvous
with Saturn's moon Titan today. This was the last pass
before the European Space Agency's Huygens probe is sprung
loose from Cassini on Christmas Eve. Information gathered
during this flyby will provide an opportunity to compare
images from Cassini's first close Titan encounter on Oct.
Image right: This image was taken on Dec. 11, 2004 by the Cassini spacecraft as it approached Titan for its second close encounter with this intriguing moon. The bright and dark regions near the center of the frame are features on Titan's surface. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Click for full image/caption.
NASA's Deep Space Network tracking station in Madrid, Spain,
acquired a signal at about 4:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time
(7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time). As anticipated, the
spacecraft came within 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) of
As with the last flyby, a major goal of this flyby is to
measure the thickness of Titan's atmosphere. This
information will help determine whether Cassini can safely
get closer to Titan on subsequent flybys, and will also be
used to verify that Huygens atmosphere models are correct.
Titan is a prime target of the Cassini-Huygens mission
because it is the only moon in our solar system with a thick
smoggy atmosphere. The Huygens probe, built and operated by
the European Space Agency, is attached to Cassini. After
its Christmas Eve release, it will descend through Titan's
atmosphere on Jan. 14, 2005, as it collects atmospheric data
down to the surface.
Tomorrow morning, Cassini will fly by Saturn's icy moon
Dione at a distance of 72,500 kilometers (45,000 miles).
Images and science results from both flybys will be
presented at a news conference that will take place on
Thursday, Dec. 16, at the American Geophysical Union fall
meeting in San Francisco. Reporters who wish to call in
should call Carolina Martinez at (818) 354-9382.
Raw images are available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
Additional information on the Cassini-Huygens mission is
available at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of
NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space
Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the
Cassini mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate,
Washington, D.C. JPL designed, developed and assembled the
Cassini orbiter. The European Space Agency built and
managed the development of the Huygens probe and is in
charge of the probe operations. The Italian Space Agency
provided the high-gain antenna, much of the radio system and
elements of several of Cassini's science instruments.
Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory